Playing Devil’s Advocate on Josh Rosen’s Debut


After all the anticipation, we finally got to see Josh Rosen in action. As I’m sure you’ve seen by now, he went 28-35 for 351 yards passing and 3 touchdowns, with no interceptions in UCLA’s commanding 34-16 victory over Virginia on Saturday. Even more encouraging, he was only sacked once!

Rosen’s performance was one of the national highlights of college football’s opening weekend, and many pundits are revising their predictions for UCLA upwards. Bruin fans are feeling vindicated: ‘See! We told you he wasn’t your average freshman. We knew we wouldn’t be weak at quarterback!’

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We were confident in Rosen because of everything we’d heard and seen from his high school playing days, from the recruiting trail, and from spring and fall camps. Sometimes it’s hard to cut through the hype; but the hype for Rosen appears to be justified. He was everything we were told he would be.

And that’s where I want to pause for a second. The narrative on Rosen was overwhelmingly positive: his arm, his maturity, his intelligence, his calm, etc., etc. But the one negative that popped up for Rosen was the question of whether he was coachable. Is he so poised and confident that he won’t take instruction from his coaches or humble himself among his teammates? This concern soured at least one coaching staff on him, Stanford‘s, and is part of the reason that Trent Dilfer ranked him last in the Elite 11 quarterback recruiting competition.

So I – along with, I’m sure, many others – am curious to see how Rosen’s allegedly oversize ego comes into play as the season goes on. So, for the purposes of what may become a recurring feature, I’m going to be overly sensitive and hypercritical in search of any indications that Rosen’s ego is becoming an issue.

Jul 30, 2015; Burbank, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins center Jake Brendel poses at Pac-12 Media Day at Warner Bros. Studios. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There were two moments on Saturday that gave me pause in this regard. The first was on fourth down of UCLA’s first possession of the game. After the dropped pass on first down and a two-yard run by Paul Perkins on second down, Rosen completed a pass to Nate Iese for six yards, bringing up 4th-and-2 on UCLA’s 33 yard-line. Rosen ran up to the new line of scrimmage and motioned to the sideline that they should go for it.

I was watching on TV but listening to the UCLA radio feed, and Bill Roth and Matt Stevens chuckled at Rosen’s exuberance and noted that his excitement to continue his first college drive was impairing his judgment. Unsurprisingly, Jim Mora waved the offense off the field and sent in the punt team.

What struck me here was not that he wanted to go for it, but that he publicly showed up his coaching staff by telling them what call to make in the first drive of his first game. Confidence is great and essential, but you have to earn the privilege to do it like that.

The other came at the beginning of the fourth quarter, with the offense facing a 3rd-and-2 on UVA’s 13 yard-line. Rosen clapped for the silent count and then looked to his left either to direct the motion man or to call out a read. While he was looking away, Jake Brendel snapped the ball and it flew backwards 19 yards until Rosen fell on it, setting up a 4th-and-21 on UVA’s 32 yard-line. Ka’imi Fairbairn missed the ensuing 50-yard field goal attempt.

I don’t know for certain whose fault the missed snap was, Rosen’s or Brendel’s, but I saw what looked like Rosen and Brendel barking at each other on the sideline afterwards until Brendel walked away to sit down. I’m fully open to the idea that I’m misreading things here, watching on TV from 2,600+ miles away, but that’s not a good look for the freshman. Leadership looks like taking responsibility in that situation rather than chewing out your senior captain on the sideline.

Again, I’m probably way off in interpreting what I saw. The linemen were universal in their praise of Rosen after the game, and there was no other indication of conflict. And with the earlier instance, I am sure I’m blowing it way out of proportion and that Mora and Noel Mazzone reacted similarly to Roth and Stevens.

In both cases, though, I’m primed to keep an eye out for situations in which Rosen’s supposedly large ego potentially causes problems. Remember, I’m picking nits off of nits here, in an effort to take this ‘coachability’ narrative seriously and, hopefully, put those concerns to rest. So don’t mind me; I’m not over here trying to rain on anyone’s parade, I’m just trying to make sure our expectations reflect the totality of what we know about Rosen.

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